Our extern, Christina Salkowski, has reported to us from the front lines, actually the lunch lines, in Hyde Park and Pawling about how the new guidelines are being received. You've probably already seen the video produced by some school kids in Kansas, "We Are Hungry." That probably sums up the way many school kids in our area feel about lunch. High school students look at 2-ounce portions of protein and ask "Where's the beef?" Parents wonder if they should be packing supplemental lunches and snacks to get their students through the day, especially if their children happen to participate in sports or club activities after school.
So, are kids in Kansas right? Are we dooming our children to energy slumps from fifth to ninth period and eliminating any chance of seeing the volleyball team make it to state championships? The fact is that hungry students can supplement their lunches with additional servings of fruits, vegetables, and milk. And the protein portion? Is 2 ounces really enough for teenagers? Yes, it is, according to Kevin Concannon, Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, and a host of other nutrition and wellness experts.
But, what have these changes had on the foodservice workers across the country? The first day of school found many lunch ladies scrambling to find the right serving utensils to be sure they were adhering to the guidelines. Christina tells us that there have been some interesting, perhaps unintended, consequences of the new serving sizes, as well. Since manufacturers are still selling larger burgers and meatballs, some schools are making the switch to scratch cooking more rapidly than they might have otherwise, which may mean that students get fresher, tastier, and healthier options at lunch. The bigger challenge may be finding ways to encourage students to eat more fruits and vegetables. These are the food prejudices that take time to overcome.
Healthy eating may start at home, but it doesn't end there. If parents encourage their children to practice better habits by offering fresh fruits and vegetables at meals and for snacks, it won't seem such a stretch. If teachers include food as part of whatever they teach, whether it is history, math, ethics, or science, it won't seem so foreign and weird. If school administrators support and encourage not only their teachers and students, but also the foodservice department, lunch won't seem so "separate" from the rest of the school day. If everyone gets on board, it is likely that students will adjust to smaller portions of protein after some time passes, and that they will start eating the extra fruits and vegetables on the tray instead of feeding them to the garbage cans.
Creating a healthier environment at school that honors the age-old precept mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a healthy body) probably means a number of changes that might take some getting used to, whether you are a parent, a school administrator, a foodserivce director, a teacher, or a student. But these are the lessons that will last throughout a healthy lifetime.